February, that frozen, middle month, stretches ahead, convincing us that this frigid season will never end. We were patient, stiff upper lipped with January… after all, this is Maine and it’s winter. By March, we are eager… thawing snow forms juicy puddles and we can almost smell the hyacinth. But, stuck here in between, spinning its wheels, February’s icy grip is broken only by a minor diversion, Valentine’s Day. Surely, Hallmark Cards and Russell Stover Candies know what desperation they are tapping into when they push Valentine’s Day to the top of our consciousness. The temperature is unrelenting; the shoveling has been hard; and the ashes from the wood stove need to be swept… again. We need warmth and we need a little love. Those red and pink hearts dancing across the storefront windows, the dainty little lace doilies, and the stacks of chocolates croon to us, “Melt my heart!”
Fine. Buy chocolates, send cards and flowers. But, for me, the secret to love is food. Not the sweet, treacly stuff of boxed bon-bons, but savory, hearty, real food. “There is no sight on earth more appealing than the sight of a woman making dinner for someone she loves.”, wrote Thomas Wolfe. I know what you’re thinking… Wolfe died in 1938 and a lot of enlightenment has dawned since then. So, before you accuse me of having missed the Women’s Liberation boat, let me try to update Mr. Wolfe. In my book, there is nothing more endearing than anyone, male or female, making a meal for someone he or she loves.
I have had a long and passionate love affair with food from a painful early courtship with cooking that flirted with frequent disasters to a comfortable relationship with the kitchen that has surprised me with private triumphs. I’ve come a long way from fusing an empty tea kettle to the burner in our first apartment. Which is not to say that culinary flops have been banished from my repertoire. I had a stunning failure just the other night! All I know, for sure, is that there is no theme I enjoy more than that of food. Even away from the pantry, in literature, film, or television, the obsession continues. Hand me Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances Mayes’ evocative book laced with her delicious recipes or turn to TV’s irreverent Anthony Bourdain, noshing his way around the world, and I am instantly mesmerized.
The source of this enchantment, quite simply, is the desire to eat well. Not quantity. It’s not about mounds of food. (Although, occasionally… well, we won’t go there.) The magic is all about taste and the secret ingredient is taking the time to care. If it makes a difference to me, then maybe it will make a difference to someone I cherish. Noted food columnist, Craig Claiborne, once said, “…cooking with care is an act of love.” So, here’s the perfect Valentine for your consideration: Make something special for the love of your life. Insert recipe… It doesn’t matter what is as log as it’s homemade. Set the table and use the good china. What are you saving it for? Light a candle or two; add some soft music and melt his or her heart. Here’s hoping that the glow from this gift will warm you all winter long.
Happy Valentine’s Day to each of you!